I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye. - Pi Patel, Life of Pi (2012)
I am painfully aware of moment. Sometimes it enhances the moment and other times it doesn't let me just live in it instead of observing it. Leaving Japan and not knowing when I'd come back wasn't just a moment though. It was a process. In another post I mention how moving from another country takes weeks, well so does saying goodbye properly. Every place and every person that seems worthy of your goodbye should get an un- rushed, heartfelt goodbye. Do this and you'll have no regrets.
Japan already has goodbyes built into their culture with farewell ceremonies, enkais, and phrases like お世話になりました (osewa ni narimashita) which is used to thank someone over a considerable amount of time. This was my life in Japan, the one I had wanted for so long, and now it was coming to a close. I said goodbye to every thing.
I said goodbye to my favorite bistro place with the awesome salmon calzone and their kind staff. To the bakery ladies who would laugh at the silly foreigner girl who asked for her sandwich to be toasted To my friend at the salon who diligently made every effort (and succeeded in kick-ass fashion) to dye my hair in 'gradiation' aka ombre. To the kind couple whom I rented my car from who would never let me leave without some token of their appreciation in the form of snacks, tea, pocket warmers, etc. To the mountain I climbed after school with my hiking buddies where we'd runaway screaming from giant Japanese hornets. To the kind Indian staff at our favorite restaurant who without fail, would give us free lassi each visit. To the rare Japanese gas station attendant with the beautiful blue eyes who would put in gas for me. To the older Japanese ladies we would have English speaking parties with. To apartment I hated at first and came to love after I'd made it homey. To the students who would smile and wave at me, To the teachers who had taken me in. The friends I never imagined myself lucky enough to meet. To the bunny I'd bought for month and was frantically finding a way to ship back home to me (spoiler alert: I did it). And finally...to the love of my life who I had met in the place of my dreams. He was staying and I was leaving. That's all I'll say.
Actual events included farewell dinners with these friends, but you know how those go, so I'll elaborate on the farewell enkai and ending ceremony at school.
That day would be the end-of-summer term concluding ceremony and since this is done essentially in the middle of the Japanese school year, many of the students were shocked to hear that I would be giving a farewell speech. It later had to be explained to them that nothing was wrong with me, it was just the end of my contract. I did the whole thing in Japanese and received a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a certificate from my school. Afterwards, I took pictures with several students and teachers, packed my desk, bowed to the principal and vice-principle, and then went back to my apartment where I proceeded to jump up and down because I DID IT! I'd taught for two years in Japan when at first the task seemed impossible in terms of being a teacher and through some of the harder days when nothing seemed to go right. Later that night, I had an enkai held just for me with not all of the teachers, but certainly my favorite ones. They wouldn't hear of letting me pay, and gave me way too many cards and little cute gifts. We took pictures and they gave speeches. I gave an informal speech that even surprised me with the emotion I suddenly realized I had. So with tears in my eyes as I said in Japanese, "thank you so much for everything", I looked around and saw people looking back at me with fondness and friendship. However, nothing struck me more than when the agricultural teacher, a young Japanese guy who had befriended me early on came up to me laughing as he tripped over his words in English trying to tell me something. I told him to tell me in Japanese and I'd help him. What he said left me so stunned that I couldn't fulfill my promise. He said,
"When the earthquake and tsunami struck, Japan was labeled as a dangerous place. Many people were worried about many things and even our ALT left even though we were all the way in Tamba, far from the affected area. I really didn't think we'd have an ALT that year, but you came and said you'd loved Japan so much you had to come especially when they needed you to...Thank you. Thank you for coming to Japan."
No, thank you Japan, for making a dream come for me by just being you.
Goodbye (for now)